The Art of Managing Multiple Locations
Juggling an MSO leadership role and in-house shop management, Shelly Bickett focuses her energy on bringing more people into the industry. With over 20 years in the industry, Bickett has witnessed the technician shortage firsthand.
In March, Bickett was presented the 2018 Most Influential Woman award from the Women’s Industry Network for work in the development of Fix Auto USA, passion for the industry and community service work.
Bickett, CFO of her nine Fix Auto USA locations, started in the industry in 1984. She first dabbled in accounting and then got involved in the California Auto Body Association as a treasurer. Along with her husband, Erick Bickett, she founded Caliber Collision. Later, the duo left Caliber Collision and founded Fix Auto USA.
Now, Bickett carries out the duties of chief financial officer in her shop office at one of nine locations. She also works from her home in Oregon.
In order to manage the nine locations she owns and also network in the industry, Bickett relies on an organized schedule.
I’ll get up around 6 a.m. and first take a look at my email. I’ll usually at least have 20 emails I need to respond to in the morning. I rely on my Microsoft Outlook checklist during the day. This is just a sheet that I use as a to-do list.
After checking my emails, I’ll prioritize the tasks for the day. I keep a print-out next to my desk but other than that, I try to keep everything digital and paperless in order to save space on my desk and help the planet.
My top priorities during the day are talking with each store manager and other meetings. I’ll spend about an hour or two just answering calls from my store managers. They’ll call me if they have received word of issues on a particular repair.
Topics of discussion right now are usually pre- and post-repair scans and battery charger issues. There’s been a recent change in OSHA standards for battery chargers so some of my calls have been about that. In California, there’s a lot more change in environmental regulation so I have to keep my managers up to date on that.
I typically oversee finances, accounting and human resource departments in the business. During tax season, I spend extra time just reviewing roughly 13 tax returns and filing them.
I’ll spend every Wednesday morning on conference calls with my regional general managers. For example, this morning I had four conference calls with my three general managers. I go over a type of “hit list” for what they need to accomplish for the week.
I make Wednesday conference calls a date that’s set in stone. It’s a set time every week. I found that in the body shop, Mondays are usually the busiest time for technicians and managers because they have more customers coming in with repair work that occurred over the weekend. Intake is usually on Monday and anyone doing accounting has to dive into any changes in the books.
The middle of the week is perfect for meetings because we can talk about what happened at the start of the week and address any issues that arose since the week previous. Then, the team still has two more days to fix or tweak any issues.
Honestly, during the day I don’t get that much downtime. I will bring an extra pair of tennis shoes into my office in the hopes of going for a walk or a hike. Usually, I never have time to go out.
When it comes to having the option to take a 30-minute break during the day, I’d rather work through it and then have extra time to relax at home in the evening. I’m not a procrastinator and I don’t like to wait to do work.
I encourage my team to turn off their communication at night. I want my team to not call or text at night. The evenings should be free time to spend with your family, friends or doing a hobby.
I try to encourage a work day that ends at the latest at 6 p.m.
I’m not a crafty person but I enjoy physical activity in my free time. I’ll take a breather and go kayaking, walking or ride a bicycle.
I meet with some Fix Auto owners about three to four times per year. I constantly have to work around not only my schedule but also my managers’ and the other shop owners’. The only tool I use to help me juggle everything is Microsoft programs.
We’ve collaborated in these meetings mostly on staying up to date with scanning and working on a performance and pay review.
While these meetings do not happen often, I do tell my staff that if something is urgent, just call me or bring it up at a meeting. It’s much better to discuss a problem right away and try to solve the issue before it becomes a money problem.
When I’m not working with my general managers, accountants and human resource staff, I spend time on my other businesses.
I created and own the Collision Career Institute (CCI), an apprenticeship program with on-the-job training and schooling. I’m also partial owner of Nuventory, which is an independent inventory management solution.
I have one meeting each week for Nuventory work and I spend the majority of my other time on the CCI. I really want to get new people into the industry and show them the potential salary they could make as well as all the growth opportunities. I have one graduate from CCI that entered the 18–24 month program and now is making over $100,000 in annual salary.
Right now we have about six people in the program and only bring in individuals every quarter. These students all work at different stores out of our California locations.
I realized these business endeavors required community involvement and networking. I have four children and alongside my two daughters, I’m involved in the National Charity League Inc. This is a nonprofit of mothers and daughters working together.
I learned in my career that it is important to have a circle of influence, especially as a woman in the industry. I mostly contact other shop owners and women via the phone but it’s an effort to share opportunities for professional and leadership growth within the industry.
For my female employees I suggested they listen to collision repair podcasts to stay abreast of changes in the industry and learn management tips.
When you own a business, the work days really never end. I try to leave the shop office around 5 p.m. I also try to encourage my management team to try to leave work at work when they go home. I think it’s important to have time away from the business. Yet, this does not always happen for me.
I have about 215 employees and when you have that many to manage, you’ll definitely get calls on the weekends. Work really never stops, despite my efforts. Every Saturday morning, I’ll spend an hour or even longer just going through my email again catching up on the work before Monday bombards me with more work.